With a global reputation for all things fresh, seasonal and delicious, tasting your way around New Zealand comes highly recommended. In a country where scenery and culture are a given, New Zealand food doesn’t often guide the itinerary. But it should.
Whilst void of a set cuisine as such, New Zealand food instead wows with original flavour combinations, world-class settings and a unique blend of influences from indigenous Maori culture as well as Asian and European settlers.
The result is an exciting food scene, from the captivating farm-to-table experiences to the trendy waterfront restaurants in the city, accommodating everyone from meat fanatics to plant-based lovers.
There are some dishes you will be familiar with and others you may be surprised by; after all, that is the nature of a country so fascinating. Fresh seafood, traditional Maori dishes cooked underground to vegetables picked that very morning and wine recipes perfected over generations; I don’t know about you, but our mouths are already watering.
Let’s dig in;
New Zealand Cuisine: Top Destinations for the Foodie
Before diving into New Zealand traditional food, it’s best to have an idea of the different regions and what they bring to the table (pun intended).
If we were to list all of the best places to dine from Auckland to Queenstown restaurants (*cough cough* Fergburger), we’d need a book. So, instead, this part is all about an overview of the top destinations to stick your fork in;
Straight in with a solid gem of the North Island, Hawke’s Bay has become well-known for its unique dining experiences that truly showcase the region’s potential.
Hawke’s Bay is a destination to combine excitement with the land’s freshest produce, from gastro pub classics to speciality experiences that whisk you away to hidden locations.
Not forgetting what Hawke’s Bay is most known for, you’ll be on the doorstep of hundreds of vineyards, cellar doors and wineries, which make the perfect accompaniment to any meal.
A short journey across the water from Auckland, a foodie destination in its own right, Waiheke is affectionately known as the ‘island of wine’ with over 30 wineries calling this tiny island home.
When it comes to matches, there are few better than the impressive range of fine-dining restaurants and Waiheke wine. The hottest New Zealand restaurants, getting a spot here requires booking months in advance (or having someone on the inside – introducing our New Zealand Local Suppliers).
If you’re noticing a pattern here, yes, most wine regions in New Zealand also offer the best food experiences.
The southernmost wine region in the world, Central Otago occupies the middle of the South Island. It holds firm its reputation for artisan refineries, gourmet food experiences and a perfect blend of Western and Maori cuisine, which has earned international recognition.
The capital deserves a spot on this list due to its eclectic range of gastronomic delights. Home to authentic ethnic spots, fine dining restaurants and small quirky cafes, Wellington delights every foodie with its offering.
In Little Penang, you’ll be blown away from authentic Malaysian cuisine whilst absorbing the buzzing atmosphere whilst the wealth of food night markets and colourful eateries all over the city deserve to be celebrated.
What’s firmly put Wellington on the map is its uplifting of New Zealand’s indigenous culture combined with innovation, diversity and local produce resulting in an inspiring food scene.
Food and Drink You Must Try in New Zealand
Okay, we’ve kept you waiting long enough. Now it’s time to get down to the bones of New Zealand cuisine. Seek out for any of the following on a food tour of New Zealand, and you’ll be sure to leave the country raving about more than just the scenery;
When it comes to ‘eating like a local’ in New Zealand, Hangi is as close as it gets.
A traditional Maori feast of meat, potatoes and root vegetables, the preparation of Hangi involves wrapped everything up in flax leaves and then cooking it for several hours in a covered pit of hot stones. The result is deliciously tender meat that falls off the bone and perfectly cooked vegetables infused with an earth-like smoky flavour.
Hangi is typically enjoyed in conjunction with other Maori cultural experiences. You won’t find Hangi on the menu in New Zealand restaurants, so the best place to try it is Rotorua on the North Island. On this 9-day North Island food and wine tour, you’ll visit the Mitai Maori Village and enjoy a cultural evening of traditions followed by a Hangi feast.
Green-Lipped Mussels, Bluff Oysters & Seafood in General
Besides lamb and meat pies (we’ll get to those later), seafood is New Zealand’s most prized produce. With 14,000 kilometres of coastline, it’s no surprise that sampling seafood in several destinations in New Zealand should come top of your list on a foodie tour. Let’s introduce some of the favourites;
Steamed to perfection with white wine, garlic and bacon or topped with cheese and garlic under the grill, green-lipped mussels are plump, sweet, tender mussels found only in New Zealand. They get their name from the emerald green colour which tips their shell. Whilst everywhere else in the world, they are coveted as a delicacy, in New Zealand, you’ll find buckets of them in almost every restaurant.
They say you haven’t had an oyster until you’ve had a Bluff oyster. Juicer, larger and arguably more delicious than regular oysters, they are said to be the tastiest in the world. From March to August each year, one of the most highly-anticipated seasons of the year for Kiwis, this South Island delicacy is celebrated and eaten by the dozen almost everywhere you go. Of course, nowhere beats them more than having them in Bluff itself!
We haven’t even touched on the must-try whitebait fritters or the revered Kiwi fish and chips, but if you’re already salivating in anticipation, then a food and wine tour of New Zealand will suit you well.
Without even stepping foot in New Zealand, you’ll know that their lamb is famous the world over. Outnumbering people by six to one, sheep are everywhere in New Zealand, meaning lamb is cheap and plentiful. As one of the major exports of New Zealand, lamb is also widely enjoyed in the country itself.
Found on menus nationwide, New Zealand lamb is incredibly succulent and tender due to the rich, green pastures where the sheep are raised. Roasted with vegetables, rosemary and mint, nothing beats a Sunday lunch of roast lamb washed down with an award-winning Kiwi red.
Whilst it may have made a hop, skip and a jump over from England, Kiwis have embraced the humble meat pie as their own. An iconic comfort food, the most popular filling for this delicious hand-sized snack is minced meat, gravy and cheese. Don’t knock it ‘til you try it.
Found in supermarkets, bakeries, service stations and cafes, meat pies make for the perfect on-the-road snack on a self-drive tour of New Zealand. Keeping up with the times, you’ll also find plenty of fish, veggie and vegan options.
Lamingtons, Hokey Pokey & More Sweetness
It may seem that New Zealanders are mad for all things meat and fish, but what you may not realise is they stack up pretty well in the dessert department too.
Lamingtons are small squares of sponge cake covered in chocolate or raspberry icing sprinkled with shaved coconut. Served with a dollop of cream fresh from the bakery, you’ve got your sweet tooth satisfied with the first bite.
Another that deserves mention is the lolly cake. A cake-meets-biscuit hybrid, the lolly cake is made with a base of crushed malt biscuits and filled with chewy marshmallows and, once again, topped with a hefty dose of desiccated coconut.
Finally, you have hokey pokey, New Zealand’s term for honeycomb toffee. Solid chunks of honeycomb oozing through delicious creamy vanilla ice cream is the must-try flavour of ice cream in New Zealand.
New Zealand Wine (and Cheese)
Now, you didn’t think we’d get through a whole blog about New Zealand food without mentioning the best thing to accompany any meal, did you?
New Zealand is home to a whopping ten wine-producing regions and over 370 wineries. Wine in New Zealand is expertly produced, celebrated and abundant, with Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc being their most award-winning varieties and renowned worldwide.
Cheese and wine are a match made in mouthwatering heaven. Whilst we were mentioning the wine, it’s only fitting to touch on its favourite pairing. New Zealand boasts several world-class cheeseries, including Kapiti, Whitestone and Puhoi Valley, which are worth visiting.
Scheduling in some wine tasting at a vineyard or two in New Zealand is a must. Why not make your whole trip about New Zealand food and wine like this 8-day boutique culinary experience?
Time to Book a Trip to New Zealand? We Thought So!
Foodie or not, New Zealand is a destination for gourmet experiences. Whether that’s fish and chips on the beach, a culinary masterpiece of fine dining in Auckland or a little winery visit here and there, you’ll enjoy these experiences as much as everything else you get up to on your New Zealand adventure!
Our Local Experts in New Zealand are ready and waiting to design your perfect trip. With your ideal balance of tours, guides, activities, experiences and more, all built to suit your travel style, budget and interests – that’s what our Local Experts do best.
Browse our gallery of fully customisable New Zealand trips to get you started, or tap ‘design your own trip’ to fill out a few questions to get you connected to one of our Local Experts who will take care of the rest. New Zealand awaits!